The Ice Planet

April 10, 2017

Mad Mel's Liquid Finale

The Middleman

&lt;div style=&quot;text-align: justify;&quot;&gt;&lt;b&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;This TV review first posted June 10, 2008.&lt;/span&gt;&lt;/b&gt;&lt;br /&gt;&lt;b&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;Edited to remove a waffly first paragraph.&lt;/span&gt;&lt;/b&gt;&lt;br /&gt;&lt;i&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;&lt;br /&gt;&lt;/span&gt;&lt;/i&gt;&lt;i&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;&quot;Fighting evil, so you don&#39;t have to.&quot;&lt;/span&gt;&lt;/i&gt;&lt;br /&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;&lt;br /&gt;&lt;/span&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;ABC Family&#39;s &lt;a href=&quot;http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Middleman_(TV_series)&quot; target=&quot;_blank&quot;&gt;&lt;i&gt;The Middleman&lt;/i&gt;&lt;/a&gt;&amp;nbsp;seems destined—indeed, designed—to be a&amp;nbsp;cult favourite. Too goofy for the mainstream, it&#39;s also hampered by a budget that the most basic of basic cable hour-longs might be ashamed of. But what it has in spades is charm and a lack of preciousness that lifts it above the unoriginal premise and similar, more self-consciously offbeat fare. Enough, at least, to ensure it finds a niche populated by kids &lt;/span&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;looking for a clever actioner that doesn&#39;t speak down to them, and older kids&amp;nbsp;&lt;/span&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;adults charmed by pop culture references familiar enough to evoke&amp;nbsp;&lt;a href=&quot;http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buffy_the_Vampire_Slayer&quot; target=&quot;_blank&quot;&gt;&lt;i&gt;Buffy&lt;/i&gt;&lt;/a&gt;&amp;nbsp;&lt;/span&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;and its contemporaries, yet&amp;nbsp;&lt;/span&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;obscure enough to make them feel smart.&lt;/span&gt;&lt;/div&gt;&lt;div style=&quot;text-align: justify;&quot;&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;&lt;br /&gt;&lt;/span&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;On paper&amp;nbsp;&lt;i&gt;The Middleman&lt;/i&gt;&amp;nbsp;holds little promise: &quot;A young woman is recruited by a secret agency to fight against evil forces.&quot; More&amp;nbsp;&lt;a href=&quot;http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Men_in_Black_(film)&quot; target=&quot;_blank&quot;&gt;&lt;i&gt;Men in Black&lt;/i&gt;&lt;/a&gt;&amp;nbsp;than&amp;nbsp;&lt;i&gt;Buffy,&lt;/i&gt; it &lt;/span&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;offers little variation from the age-old trope: a world of aliens and monsters (&lt;/span&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;and&amp;nbsp;super-intelligent, genetically-engineered primates) coexisting alongside the world of men. Sometimes peacefully, other times less so. When someone from the outside discovers this secret world,&amp;nbsp;&lt;a href=&quot;http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BrokenMasquerade&quot; target=&quot;_blank&quot;&gt;they must become part of it, or join those who fight or police it&lt;/a&gt;.&amp;nbsp;&lt;/span&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;And that&#39;s pretty much what we have here. Wendy (Natalie Morales) is a geeky temp secretary who during one posting is attacked by what she describes as a &quot;hentai tentacle monster&quot;. The beast is dealt with by an implacable stranger, the eponymous &quot;Middleman&quot; (Matt Keeslar), who fights evil using an array of whizzy gadgets supplied by an unknown power. Impressed by Wendy&#39;s poise in unusual circumstances (&lt;i&gt;&quot;95% of people would fill their shorts and be eaten&quot;&lt;/i&gt;), he offers her a job as his apprentice/sidekick.&lt;/span&gt;&lt;/div&gt;&lt;div style=&quot;text-align: justify;&quot;&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;&lt;br /&gt;&lt;/span&gt;&lt;/div&gt;&lt;div class=&quot;separator&quot; style=&quot;clear: both; text-align: justify;&quot;&gt;&lt;a href=&quot;http://i120.photobucket.com/albums/o164/wilkinsonswords/middleman1.jpg&quot; imageanchor=&quot;1&quot; style=&quot;margin-left: 1em; margin-right: 1em;&quot;&gt;&lt;img border=&quot;0&quot; src=&quot;http://i120.photobucket.com/albums/o164/wilkinsonswords/middleman1.jpg&quot; height=&quot;271&quot; width=&quot;400&quot; /&gt;&lt;/a&gt;&lt;/div&gt;&lt;div style=&quot;text-align: justify;&quot;&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;&lt;br /&gt;&lt;/span&gt;&lt;/div&gt;&lt;div style=&quot;text-align: justify;&quot;&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;&lt;i&gt;The Middleman&lt;/i&gt; doesn&#39;t wear its influences on its sleeve so much as have them tattooed on its face. &quot;The Pilot Episode Sanction&quot;&amp;nbsp;&lt;/span&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;is a Frankenstein&#39;s Monster of someone else&#39;s ideas. But what judicious employment of familiar concepts allows is room for the dialogue and characters to breathe, without having to spend too long explaining the set-up. And while it doesn&#39;t subvert the trope&amp;nbsp;&lt;/span&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;entirely, it does undermine it with clever digs at both its own and the genre&#39;s preposterousness (&quot;that belonged to my father, who disappeared in mysterious and as-yet-unexplained circumstances&quot;) and via the fourth wall-breaking captions.&lt;/span&gt;&lt;br /&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;&lt;br /&gt;&lt;/span&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;The dialogue is equally sly, assaulting the viewer with pop culture references and screwball sparring. Morales&#39; delivery is perfect: rapid-fire and deadpan, she&#39;s more Garofolo than Gellar, though hotter and geekier than both. Keeslar, channelling&amp;nbsp;&lt;a href=&quot;http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benton_Fraser&quot; target=&quot;_blank&quot;&gt;Constable Benton Fraser&lt;/a&gt;&lt;/span&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;—shit, how good would Paul Gross be in this part?—isn&#39;t&amp;nbsp;quite so confident, but his might be the harder role: a former Navy Seal, the character is written as an endearing throwback to a more innocent time, ruthless, intelligent and maybe a little dim—all at the same time. And all the while spouting goshdang-it-to-heck aphorisms (he never swears, except when he does).&lt;/span&gt;&lt;br /&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;&lt;br /&gt;&lt;/span&gt;&lt;/div&gt;&lt;div style=&quot;text-align: justify;&quot;&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;If the show seldom pauses long enough to allow appreciation the more delicious lines, nor does it allow reflection on its weaker moments. In any event, o&lt;/span&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;nly a few spoil the party: a series of gangster film quotes that not once stray from the obvious (&lt;i&gt;The Godfather&lt;/i&gt;, &lt;i&gt;Scarface&lt;/i&gt;),&lt;/span&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;&amp;nbsp;and a &lt;i&gt;Planet of the Apes&lt;/i&gt;&amp;nbsp;reference which I&#39;m surprised didn&#39;t get left on &lt;i&gt;The Simpsons&lt;/i&gt;&#39; cutting-&lt;/span&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;room floor where they found it. The pilot also seems to run out of breath&amp;nbsp;&lt;/span&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;halfway through when Wendy&#39;s boyfriend appears, a boring dick undeserving of both his screen time and Wendy&#39;s forgiveness. But it gets its second wind as it approaches a denouement marred only by the obvious deficiencies in the budget.&lt;/span&gt;&lt;br /&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;&lt;br /&gt;&lt;/span&gt;&lt;/div&gt;&lt;div style=&quot;text-align: justify;&quot;&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;So ignore that, throw in a&amp;nbsp;&lt;a href=&quot;http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/RidiculouslyHumanRobots&quot; target=&quot;_blank&quot;&gt;ridiculously human robot&lt;/a&gt;&amp;nbsp;&lt;/span&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;with a prickly demeanour, and a black-and-white aside that ends with an image of the Middleman holding an umbrella and Wendy wearing a scuba mask, and you&#39;re left with what has the potential to be one of the oddest and smartest shows you&#39;ll see this summer.&lt;/span&gt;&lt;br /&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;&lt;br /&gt;&lt;/span&gt;&lt;/div&gt;&lt;div class=&quot;separator&quot; style=&quot;clear: both; text-align: justify;&quot;&gt;&lt;a href=&quot;http://i120.photobucket.com/albums/o164/wilkinsonswords/vlcsnap-150171.png&quot; imageanchor=&quot;1&quot; style=&quot;margin-left: 1em; margin-right: 1em;&quot;&gt;&lt;img border=&quot;0&quot; src=&quot;http://i120.photobucket.com/albums/o164/wilkinsonswords/vlcsnap-150171.png&quot; height=&quot;225&quot; width=&quot;400&quot; /&gt;&lt;/a&gt;&lt;/div&gt;&lt;div class=&quot;separator&quot; style=&quot;clear: both; text-align: justify;&quot;&gt;&lt;br /&gt;&lt;/div&gt;&lt;div class=&quot;separator&quot; style=&quot;clear: both; text-align: justify;&quot;&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;&lt;b&gt;Notes from the future:&lt;/b&gt;&lt;/span&gt;&lt;/div&gt;&lt;div class=&quot;separator&quot; style=&quot;clear: both; text-align: justify;&quot;&gt;&lt;/div&gt;&lt;ul&gt;&lt;li&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;The second episode isn&#39;t very good, but it all picks up from there.&lt;/span&gt;&lt;/li&gt;&lt;li&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;I&#39;m not sure how I got through this review without mentioning Nu-Who, which in hindsight seems an obvious influence.&lt;/span&gt;&lt;/li&gt;&lt;li&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;&lt;a href=&quot;http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Sheppard&quot; target=&quot;_blank&quot;&gt;Mark Sheppard&lt;/a&gt;&amp;nbsp;shows up in episodes 11 and 12, back when he was being good in stuff.&lt;/span&gt;&lt;/li&gt;&lt;/ul&gt;&lt;br /&gt;&lt;span style=&quot;font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;&quot;&gt;&lt;br /&gt;&lt;/span&gt;</content>

by scwilko at April 10, 2017 09:13 PM

March 31, 2017

The Thoughts of a Mind

Rum Doings Episode 237: Uncle Nick Is A Silly Poo Poo Face

In our 237th ever Rum Doings, isn’t it about time doctors stopped prescribing fake news?

After establishing just how wrong Nick is, we consider how sincere is Theresa May, and then move on to John’s Amazing List Of Brilliant Ideas. In the middle of a fascinating discussion about magazines, we are invaded by a two year old. Somehow we then get on to vicars in assemblies, and then Nick gets a bit confused about what metaphors.

To get this episode directly, right click and save here. To subscribe to Rum Doings click here, or you can find it in iTunes here.

Or you can listen to it right here:

by John Walker at March 31, 2017 09:00 AM

March 10, 2017

The Thoughts of a Mind

Rum Doings Episode 236: I Wish You Had Died On The Operating Table

In our 236th ever Rum Doings, has the Bieber bubble burst?

We talk about John’s gall bladder surgery, and much besides, but you’ll have to listen to find out as it hurts too much to sit in this chair.

To get this episode directly, right click and save here. To subscribe to Rum Doings click here, or you can find it in iTunes here.

Or you can listen to it right here:

by John Walker at March 10, 2017 01:42 PM

February 24, 2017

Nick Cohen

The left and the right ignored their extremists and we ended up with Brexit and Trump

Three types dominate extremist movements: crazies, cynics and creeps. The true crazies are always at the bottom of the heap. Cynical propagandists stoke their righteous fury, without which the extremist movement would collapse. Creeps rise to the top, in extremist movements as elsewhere. They are cynical, too, of course. They know how to manipulate their base. But they must show signs of authentic craziness as well or their grip on leadership would weaken and others would take their place.

Crazies, cynics and creeps. Of the three, the cynics are the easiest to understand. They live in the conspiratorial world of clickbait journalism where charlatans churn out fantasies for sites as various as the Telegraph and the Canary. Asking if they believe their propaganda is like asking a lawyer if she believes her client is innocent. It helps, but it is beside the point. What matters is not whether they are sincere, but whether they can fake sincerity like any other salesman or woman with a product to market.

Cynics now manipulate the fate of nations. But once they were dismissed. From the fall of the Berlin Wall until 2016, polite society believed it could safely allow the extremes to fester. The far left would never take over the Labour party. The nationalist right would never take over the US Republicans or British Conservatives. If they did, sensible voters would reject them. Hillary Clinton would always beat Donald Trump. The British would always prefer the European devil they knew to a dangerous, uncertain future.

In this complacent environment, mainstream politicians and commentators assumed that every variety of cynic – and crazy and creep – could be bought off. David Cameron assumed he could appease the right by giving them a referendum “everybody” knew he would win. The centre left never bothered to fight the far left because “everybody” was equally certain that it was an irrelevance.

Allow me to let one shabby figure stand for a neglected underworld. For years, Christopher Booker of the Sunday Telegraph fanned every ignorant prejudice on the right. He denied manmade global warming. “Arctic ice isn’t vanishing after all,” he declared in 2007. (It is now vanishing so fast its absence is destabilising the entire global weather system.) He maintained Darwin’s theory of evolution was no better than creationism. Inevitably, he treated the EU as if it were a dictatorship. It seemed that no falsehood was too gross for him to circulate. At one point, he told his appreciative readers that the EU would not allow us to bury our pets until we had put them in a pressure cooker and boiled them “at 130 degrees centigrade for half an hour”..

Yet when Telegraph readers took him at his word and voted to leave behind the EU’s bunny boilers, Booker was consumed with fear. Quitting the EU-dominated European Economic Area, with the freedom of movement and compliance with EU laws Brexiters say they abhor, could lead Britain to the “ultimate disaster” of being alone in the world without agreements to trade with the EU or anyone else.

“No, no, no,” he seemed to be crying. “Surely you didn’t believe me when I said the EU would make you cook your pets. How crazy are you crazies?”

You might think that Booker is a ridiculous man not worth wasting time with. Once, you would have been right. Now he is no different from our rulers. A majority of MPs also believe it would be a disaster for Britain to leave the EU without securing membership of the single market or the customs union. Last week, they nevertheless gave Theresa May the power to negotiate just that. Hack journalists say they are just giving the readers what they want. Our politicians say they are just giving the 52% who voted to leave – now redefined as “the people” – what they want.

Respectable opinion cheers them on and holds that bowing to “the people” is the only available option. Perhaps they are right.

Perhaps, in 18 months’ time, MPs who suppressed their consciences and silenced their doubts will be able to say: “How crazy are you crazies? You didn’t actually believe we were sincere when we voted for Brexit in the Commons. No, no, no, we thought it would be a disaster all along. But we had to give ‘the people’ what they wanted.”

Perhaps “the people” will accept their excuse and blame themselves for Britain’s plight. Political “leaders”, who can only follow, must hope that they do, even though it is an iron law of democracy that “the people” never blame themselves.

Do not forget that Brexit has made cynics not just of the majority of the parliamentary Labour party and supposedly moderate Tory MPs, but of Theresa May. She is taking Britain out of the European Union when she voted in favour of Britain staying in the European Union.

I cannot think of any prime minister in British history who has behaved more cynically on a great issue of state. But her example shows that leaders cannot just be cynics. They have to do more than merely manipulate their crazies. They must creep to them and become like them. So we have the spectacle of Donald Trump’s furious tweets against the judges who have struck down his immigration bans. On the one hand, it is a cynically calculated strategy. Trump will be able to blame any terrorist attacks on the US judiciary, although no one who understands terrorism believes his edicts would save a single life. But at the same time his accusations of treason, his anti-Muslim bigotry and his contempt for the rule of law match the craziness of his supporters. He both manipulates them and is one of them.

Equally, Theresa May has to feel the zeal of the convert. To make up for her cynical espousal of a cause she once rejected, she must not only manipulate Ukip and the Tory right but become Ukip and the Tory right and enthusiastically endorse the most uncompromising Brexit on offer.

Those who look with horror at the disastrous movements tearing through western societies should relearn a lesson that should never have been forgotten: you have to fight the cynics and the crazies and the creeps from the moment they appear. Do not think that you can ignore the extremes, as the centre left did, or buy them off, as Cameron thought he could.

If you do, they will come for you and you won’t know how to fight. You won’t even know why you must fight, until it is too late.


by Nick Cohen at February 24, 2017 02:10 PM

The left are the right’s best friends

The Spectator 15 February 2017

Modern British history is largely a history of Tory rule and misrule. The Tories governed Britain from 1886 until 1905 with only the Gladstone/Rosebery minority administration of 1892 to 1895 breaking their dominance. They were in power every year from 1916 until 1945, either on their own or in coalition, except for 11 months in 1924 and from 1929 to 1931, when minority Labour governments clung to office. The Tories governed on their own from 1951 to 1964, and from 1979 to 1997. They governed first in coalition and then on their own from 2010 until…

Well, think of a number then double it.

Opponents who know that the Conservatives are not only a party of privilege but are perfectly capable of betraying the best interests of every class in the nation ought to fear them. They ought to know that the lesson of history is that once in power they tend to stay there for a generation or longer, and dedicate all their energies to removing them.

Listen to the far left clique now in control of the Labour party and much of the trade union movement and you can make the mistake of believing that it wishes nothing more than to fight them at every turn. For it is true that the left in general and the far left in particular hates Tories. But they are not frightened of them. Not remotely. If they were frightened, Labour members would never have gifted the Conservatives the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, not once but twice, a recurring act of self-indulgent infantilism whose stupidity is best captured by W. B. Yeats’ old  denunciation:

 ‘You have disgraced yourselves. AGAIN!’

If they truly feared the Tories, far leftists would be saying in public that Corbyn is every bit the disaster his opponents warned he would be, and showing that they have learned from their mistake. Instead, they can only mutter disloyalty while publicly telling their baffled and rapidly diminishing audience that the candidates with the potential to be the next Labour leader were the supposed ‘rising stars’ of the party, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Angela Rayner: politicians few people have heard of, but who just happen to be far leftists too.

If they truly feared the Tories, Corbyn’s disillusioned former supporters, who have now broken away  – the ‘not so far left’, I suppose you could call them, or ‘the near left’  – would not be offering Clive Lewis as their candidate either. What distinguishes all three is their lack of distinction. They have no reputation in the country. They have given no indication that they can appeal to the millions who are now fleeing from Labour. They have no ideas of how to rebuild Labour in hard times. Most significantly, not one of them has demonstrated the slightest ability to put Conservative ministers under pressure.

Commentators track the failure of Labour by looking at election results and opinion polls. As telling is the smug security of Tory politicians in office. Today’s anti-Tory left never wounds the May Government. Corbyn’s shadow cabinet has not forced one minister to resign. Liam Fox, Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt and Liz Truss look way out of their depth, and accident and scandal prone. All previous oppositions would have flexed their muscles and stifled snorts of pleasure as  they contemplated the ease with which they could bring them down. The far left has left them in office and in peace.

Corbyn’s tenure of the Labour party, therefore, has not only guaranteed that the right will remain in  power for as far ahead as anyone can see, it has also guaranteed that individual Conservative politicians will remain in power, however ill-equipped or personally disreputable they may be.

The paradox of the far left giving the Conservatives an easier ride than any Liberal or Labour opposition has done since the 19th century is no paradox at all to anyone who knows left-wing politics. ‘Tory’ is a remarkably capacious label on the left. By no means is it confined to actual members of the Conservative party. To the far left, Liberals are Tories, supporters of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband are Tories or ‘red Tories’ or just as bad as or no different from real Tories. By this reckoning, my description of 130-years of Tory dominance at the start of this piece was too modest. Britain has only ever had ‘Tory’ governments in one form or another. Labour and Liberal prime ministers may have occupied Downing Street but they were still Tories at heart. A ‘Tory’, it turns out, is anyone who disagrees with the far left.

Although the belief that ‘all politicians are the same’ is everywhere, the current Labour leadership expresses the attitude of the revolutionary socialists of the 20th century. Whatever names they give themselves, there is no real difference between the ‘capitalist’ parties – or ‘neo-liberal’ as they would put it today. When you dig down, you find they all support the bourgeoisie. Indeed, their apparent differences are a snare, which deludes the working class into thinking they have a choice where no real choice exists.

On this reasoning, what does it matter if one non-entity succeeds another as leader of the Labour party? If a Corbyn is followed by a Rayner, Long-Bailey or Lewis? All that matters is that the far-left retains control of the party until the glorious day when the country finally realises its mistake and turns to a truly socialist Labour party. Better to wait than to allow the ‘red Tories’ of the Labour right to regain power and delude the voters once again by pretending  they have a ‘real choice’ when in truth they have no choice at all.

In the interim, who cares if actual Tories win election after election? Who cares if Liam Fox, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt stay or go? Who cares if the number of Labour MPs falls to 200 or 175 or 150 or…Well, think of a number then halve it.

The fallacy that there is no ‘real difference’ between the parties allows the far left to tolerate Tory government for as far ahead as anyone can see. When you think that everyone except you is a Tory, then you can learn to live with actual Tories in power with surprising ease. Certainly, you are not frightened enough to exert yourself to remove them or to learn the lessons of history.

The conservative dominance of the late 19th century killed Gladstone’s plan for Irish Home Rule – England’s last chance to avert a war in Ireland, which lasted from 1916 until the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 (and may not be over yet). The Tory dominance in the first half of the 20th century brought the return to the Gold Standard and a ferocious attack on working class living standards in the 1920s and the appeasement of Hitler in the 1930s. The long Tory rule from 1979 to 1997 saw the failure of a criminally negligent Government to attempt to help the old industrial areas cope with the collapse of manufacturing. The long Tory rule from 2010 to the distant future has already seen a return to the austerity of the 1920s, and is now bringing us a hard Brexit – a European policy, which in its wilful disregard for the national interest, is the appeasement of our day. In other words, there is always a price to pay for Conservative party rule, although and alas, middle-class far leftists rarely pay it.


by Nick Cohen at February 24, 2017 01:58 PM

Donald Trump and the fascist style

The Observer 5 February 2017

Compulsive liars shouldn’t frighten you. They can harm no one, if no one listens to them. Compulsive believers, on the other hand: they should terrify you. Believers are the liars’ enablers. Their votes give the demagogue his power. Their trust turns the charlatan into the president. Their credulity ensures that the propaganda of half-calculating and half-mad fanatics has the power to change the world.

 

How you see the believers determines how you fight them and seek to protect liberal society from its enemies. And I don’t just mean how you fight that object of liberal despair and conservative fantasies, the alternately despised and patronised white working class. Compulsive believers are not just rednecks. They include figures as elevated as the British prime minister and her cabinet. Before the EU referendum, a May administration would have responded to the hitherto unthinkable arrival of a US president who threatened Nato and indulged Putin by hugging Britain’s European allies close. But Brexit has thrown Britain’s European alliance into crisis. So English Conservative politicians must crush their doubts and believe with a desperate compulsion that the alleged “pragmatism” of Donald Trump will triumph over his undoubted extremism, a belief that to date has as much basis in fact as creationism.

Mainstream journalists are almost as credulous. After decades of imitating Jeremy Paxman and seizing on the trivial gaffes and small lies of largely harmless politicians, they are unable to cope with the fantastic lies of the new authoritarian movements. When confronted with men who lie so instinctively they believe their lies as they tell them, they can only insist on a fair hearing for the sake of “balance”. Their acceptance signals to the audience the unbelievable is worthy of belief.

“Rednecks” are also embarrassingly evident among Britain’s expensively educated conservative commentators, who cannot see how the world has changed. They say that of course they don’t support everything Trump does. Their throats cleared and backs covered, they insist that the real enemy is his “foaming” and “hysterical” critics whose opposition to the alt-right is not a legitimate protest by democratic citizens but an “elitist” denial of democracy itself.

Brecht wrote against the dangers of inertia in 1935 as Hitler was changing Germany beyond recognition :

Even in fabled Atlantis, the night that the ocean engulfed it,

The drowning still cried out for their slaves.

As their old world is engulfed now, the sluggish reflexes and limited minds of too many conservatives compel them to cry out against liberal hypocrisy, as if it were all that mattered. There is more than enough hypocrisy to go round. I must confess to wondering about the sincerity of those who protest against the collective punishment of Trump’s ban on visitors from Muslim countries but remain silent when Arab countries deny all Israeli Jews admission. I too would like to know why there was so little protest when Obama gave Iran funds to spend on the devastation of Syria. But the greatest hypocrisy is always to divert attention from what is staring you in the face today and may be kicking you in the teeth tomorrow.

Today’s strongman is a leader who makes opposition as hard as possible but does not actually declare a dictatorship

The temptation to think it a new totalitarianism is too strong for many to resist. Despite readers reaching for Hannah Arendt and George Orwell, strictly speaking, the comparison with fascism and communism isn’t true. When I floated it with the great historian of Nazism, Sir Richard Evans, he almost sighed. It’s not just that there aren’t the death camps and torture chambers, he said. The street violence that brought fascists to power in Italy and Germany and the communists to power in Russia is absent today..

The 21st-century’s model for a strongman is a leader who makes opposition as hard as possible, as Orbán is trying to do in Hungary, but does not actually declare a dictatorship, for not even Putin has done that.

To my mind, that does not make comparisons with the past fruitless, particularly in the case of the nihilistic and voraciously aggressive Trump. There are very few new ideas in politics. Parallels always illuminate. Aristotle warned of the “intemperance of demagogues”. Thucydides had the strutting Athenians sneer at the vanquished Melians that “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must”. Both the warning and the threat from classical Greece are as contemporary as ever. Hannah Arendt described leaders who knew their followers would “believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism”. She was describing Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin. But her words apply as well to today’s Trump supporters, who gulp down incredible falsehoods and then dismiss the “crooked media” when the stories collapse.

We are not reliving the 20th century, for how could we? Rather, ideas from the past have melted and reformed into a postmodern fascistic style; a fascism with a wink in its eye and a bad-boy smirk on its face.

Conventional politicians and commentators are stranded because they were wholly unprepared for the new breed of leader who lies as a matter of policy as well as a matter of course. They are flailing around, and inventing phrases like “fake news” and “post-truth politics” to capture a state of affairs they think is entirely novel. Instead of saying that we are seeing something new, it is better to accept that something old and malignant has returned like foul water bubbling up from a drain.

Comparisons with 20th-century totalitarianism are not wholly exaggerated. With Trump, the lies are a dictatorial assertion of his will to power. “I am in control,” he says, in effect, as he conjures imaginary crowds at his inauguration or invents millions of illegal voters so he can pretend he won the popular vote. “You may know I am lying. But if you contradict me, I will make you pay.”

No one in the west has seen Trump’s kind of triumph in politics since the age of the dictators. But look around your workplace and perhaps you won’t be so surprised by their victories. If you are unlucky, you will see an authoritarian standing over you. The radical economist Chris Dillow once wrote that, while the fall of communism discredited the centrally planned economy, the centrally planned corporation, with the autocratic leader who tolerated no dissent, not only survived 1989, but blossomed.

Dillow is not alone in worrying about the harm the little Hitlers of the corporation might bring. Since the crash, economists have looked as a matter of urgency at how hierarchies encourage petty tyrants to brag their way to the top. They exhibit all the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder: a desire to dominate, overconfidence, a sense of entitlement, an inability to listen to others or allow others to speak and a passion for glory. If you want to know how they can win the votes of those around them, remember Fred Goodwin’s vainglorious decision to takeover ABN Amro. Perhaps the single worst decision in UK business history, whose consequences we are still paying for, was not opposed by a single member of the RBS board.

In the right circumstances, compulsive liars can create compulsive believers, as Trump has done

Narcissists in business are more likely to seek macho takeovers and less likely to engage in the hard work of innovating and creating profitable firms, the researchers found. They are more likely to cook the books to feed their cults of the personality and make, if not America, then themselves look great again. Academics from the University of California have asked the obvious question: why would rational companies let the fascism of the firm survive? Surely they ought to be protecting their businesses, as free market theory dictates, rather than allow dangerous and grasping men and women to risk their destruction.

They found what most of us instinctively know to be true: in the right circumstances, compulsive liars can create compulsive believers, as Trump has done. “Overconfident individuals attained status” because their peers believed the stories they told about themselves. It should not be a surprise that Donald Trump, Arron Banks and oligarchs backing the Russian and east European strongmen come from business. The age of the dictators never came to an end in the workplace.

Long before anyone worried about the death of truth, Trump was showing that he might have based his career on the Don DeLillo character in Underworld, who says: “Some people fake their death, I’m faking my life.” (A motto that applies as well to Boris Johnson.) Of all his lies, none to my mind is more revelatory or more ominous for the future than the lies he told when people assumed he was just another loudmouthed tycoon.

In 1989, a white investment banker called Trisha Meili was horribly beaten and raped in New York’s Central Park. She had lost three-quarters of her blood and gone into a coma by the time the police found her. The authorities arrested five juveniles, four black and one Hispanic. In one of his first moves from business into politics, Trump said death was the only punishment they deserved. He took out adverts in the New York press declaring: “Mayor Koch has stated that hate and rancour should be removed from our hearts. I do not think so. I want to hate these muggers and murderers. They should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes. CIVIL LIBERTIES END WHEN AN ATTACK ON OUR SAFETY BEGINS!”

Trump dealt with the accusations of racist scaremongering by rehearsing a self-pitying line that would serve him well in the future. Whites were the true underprivileged in American society, he told NBC television. “A well-educated black enjoys tremendous advantages over a well-educated white in terms of the job market. If I were starting off today, I would love to be a well-educated black.”

You may oppose the death penalty. You may find Trump’s language reeked of the Munich beer hall. Cynical New Yorkers noted at the time that Trump was feuding with city bosses over tax abatements for his developments and was using the rape to attack a mayor who had damned him as “greedy”. For all that, you could think that this was still a legitimate response to a foul crime.

But mark the sequel. In 2002, a career criminal admitted to the rape and DNA evidence proved he was telling the truth. The police, it turned out, had forced confessions from their teenage suspects. The boys, now men, were released. But Trump refused to concede an inch of ground. He would not accept new evidence had put him in the wrong and the five were innocent. Even in 2014, when New York finally reached a compensation settlement with the victims of police abuse, Trump was still insisting that “settling doesn’t mean innocence” and the taxpayers of New York had been fleeced.

“It shows his character,” said Raymond Santana, one of the five Trump had smeared. So it does and, after that, nothing should surprise you. Connoisseurs of Don DeLillo’s American underworld will learn all they need to know about his character when they hear that Trump’s first lawyer was Roy Cohn, a grotesque figure from the McCarthy era of the 1950s. He persecuted real and imagined gays in public life who he claimed could be blackmailed. As so often with obsessive homophobes, Cohn gave every appearance of being a closet case and died of Aids in 1986. Before denying the human race the pleasure of his company, however, Cohn taught the young Trump to always attack and never conciliate. Whether Trump needed teaching is open to doubt.

This vision of life as a perpetual war you see so clearly in the Trisha Meili case is authentically totalitarian. Truth, reason, evidence, decency must all be sacrificed to the greater good of keeping the strongman looking strong. The weapons 21st-century technology provide for political warfare make me doubt that stopping Trump and his imitators will be easy. Just as Britain’s isolated Brexit government has no choice but to compulsively believe that Trump’s pragmatism will overwhelm his extremism, so Americans must hope that the checks and balances of the constitution will cage him. No one can see the future and both may be right. But, as I said, there is no evidence that they are. One reason for pessimism is that Trump’s character may make him worthless as a man but a success as a politician in our time of cyber-charlatanism.

After Trump’s victory, Hillary Clinton’s aide Ronald A Klain reflected with understandable shock on an election his candidate should never have lost. Trump tore up the rules of politics, Klain said, but still finished in the White House. The old wisdom was to apologise if you were in the wrong and move the conversation on with as much speed as you could manage. “If you’re explaining, you’re losing,” Ronald Reagan said, as he stated the commonsensical proposition that politicians should not dwell on their embarrassments.

But Trump understood that Twitter, Facebook and 24/7 news had changed the world. The modern chancer needed to stay with the scandal and arm his supporters with instant explanations. The Trump campaign would not apologise. When caught in a scandal, it doubled down within minutes. It knew its supporters wouldn’t care if the experts they despised as thoroughly as Michael Gove dismissed Trump’s explanations for refusing to release his tax returns or feminists said his advocacy of sexual assaults was something more than “locker-room talk”. “The point is,” Klain said, “Trump supporters were armed with an explanation that they accepted and could use to defend their candidate” on social media.

The same need to instil a party line and protect his supporters from reasonable doubt leads Trump and his sidekicks once again to imitate dictators and attack the whole of the free press. Not just opposition journalists, mark you, but the entire media. The reasoning is obvious. Every one of the many financial and political scandals Trump will surely generate will emerge in the media. Every media organisation must therefore be branded as lying and fake before they publish. Journalists need to learn, if they have not learned already, that no accommodation is possible with the alt-right because its ideology and tactics preclude it from wanting an accommodation. You cannot “balance” or appease such people – you can only expose them.

Unless Twitter bans him, which it should if Trump incites violence, the same tactics can be used against politicians. Republican legislators will think hard about exercising their constitutional right to check a president if they know that Trump can use social media to provoke their supporters back home to denounce and harry them.

I am sorry if I am being “hysterical”, but I cannot see how conservatives can argue in conscience that there is nothing monstrous about the 45th President of the United States. The Ku Klux Klan has endorsed him. He has brought Steve Bannon, a true postmodern fascist, to the centre of power. Bannon exemplifies the Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt’s sinister ideal of a political leader who unites his supporters by creating enemies for them to hate. Bannon and the alt-right have made Islam – not al-Qaeda, Islamic State, or the Shia theocrats in Tehran but all Muslims – their enemy of choice. They unite their supporters on racial lines against blacks, Jews and Latinos too. As a former journalist on his Breitbart site explained, Bannon believes “in a nutshell that western culture is inseparable from European ethnicity”.

Nor, and even when all due deference has been paid to the learned objections of Richard Evans and other historians, is it a sign of hysteria to say that western democracies are seeing an increase in the indulgence of political violence that echoes the 1930s. Once, the apologetics were confined to the worst elements in the liberal-left. In the last decade, I could feel the thrill of satisfaction as they decided that the latest terrorist massacre was a just and righteous punishment for the wars of Tony Blair and George W Bush.

As late as 2015, an article for Jeremy Corbyn’s Stop the War was saying that the slaughter of civilians in Paris was “the result of deliberate policies and actions undertaken by the United States and its allies”, while the National Union of Students was deciding that it would be “Islamophobic” to criticise Islamic State. (A genuinely racist notion, incidentally, that implies, Bannon-style, that all followers of Islam welcome the mass murder of unbelievers and the sexual enslavement of captured women.)

Just as the far-left has moved from the fringe to take over the once mainstream British Labour party, so the far-right has moved in to take over America’s Republicans. Violence and fear are its fellow travellers. Look at Trump telling his supporters to “knock the crap” out of protesters at his rallies, or at the contempt with which the Daily Mail greeted the verdict and sentencing handed to the murderer of Jo Cox, or the loathing with which Nigel Farage treated her widower. Try, then, to put yourself in the place of a black or Muslim American and imagine how they feel about what is to come.

There are few reasons to be cheerful. But amid the despair, I hope I am not being naive in sensing new forces stirring and the will to fight back hardening. We are now at the beginnings of a new opposition movement, a liberal version of backlash politics, which feels the urgent need to drive the right from power.

Trump wants a violent reaction. He wants to be able to tell white Americans his opponents are ‘professional anarchists’

It could all go wrong. Trump, Bannon, Farage and the Tory right want to polarise societies. They can look to the example of Bashar al-Assad and see a path to victory. The dictator won by shooting down the peaceful demonstrators of the Arab Spring and targeting moderate forces in the civil war that followed. By the time he was finished, there was no middle ground left. Assad could turn to the brutalised survivors and say: “See, it’s either me or Islamic State now. That’s your only choice. What’s it going to be?”

Understand the logic of polarisation and you will understand that Trump wants a violent reaction. He wants to be able to tell white Americans that his opponents are “professional anarchists”, as he said last week. He wants liberals to treat all his supporters as if they are as debased as he is. He can then turn to his base and say liberals hate them because they are white; that they see them as nothing more than stupid, deplorable bigots. Force me from power, he will conclude, and these hate-filled enemies will come for you and give the “tremendous advantages” he was pretending blacks enjoyed in the 1980s to their favoured minorities.

The alternative, and not only in America, is to go back to the despised and patronised working-class followers of the right. You should try to win them over in elections rather than march with the already converted at rallies. You should cordon off the true racists and fascists and listen to and argue with the rest with a modicum of respect. If that can happen, then perhaps the world will learn that the best way to end the power of compulsive liars is to break the compulsion of their followers to believe.

 


by Nick Cohen at February 24, 2017 01:37 PM

February 17, 2017

The Thoughts of a Mind

Rum Doings Episode 235: My Willy Plopped Out My Bumhole

In our 235th ever Rum Doings, our topic is, is PewDiePie the next Hitler?

Oooh, lovely, it’s a proper old-fashioned Rum Doings episode, with topics jumping back and forth all over the house. We cover two year past deaths of radio presenters no one’s heard of, childhood fear, quantum entanglement and confused bishops.

To get this episode directly, right click and save here. To subscribe to Rum Doings click here, or you can find it in iTunes here.

Or you can listen to it right here:

by John Walker at February 17, 2017 01:41 PM

February 03, 2017

The Thoughts of a Mind

Rum Doings Episode 234: It’s Time To Stop It Now

In our 234th ever Rum Doings, our topic is, when will the world’s governments finally begin an investigation into the cause of all these celebrity deaths?

It’s a lot of Trump. That was fairly inevitable. John continues to argue for hysteria and panic, Nick continues to argue for calm uninterest. Via this exquisite example of Hegelian dialectic, a synthesis is eventually reached. (Actually, this episode presents a much more realistic example of real-life communication within the twenty-year friendship between the two hosts – this is how we normally get anywhere.)

Then there’s a smattering of the idiotic lawsuit between Bethesda and Oculus.

To get this episode directly, right click and save here. To subscribe to Rum Doings click here, or you can find it in iTunes here.

Or you can listen to it right here:

by John Walker at February 03, 2017 09:14 AM

January 26, 2017

The Thoughts of a Mind

Rum Doings Episode 233: Good Fingering

In our 233th ever Rum Doings, our topic is,

After Nick finally gets done whining and whining about how pathetic he is, we get on to a traditionally rambling, frequently sidetracked discussion of the Trump presidency so far. What might happen to NPR? We analyse Data’s poem to his cat. We read some of Trump’s tweets. And we ponder the purpose of the Women’s March.

To get this episode directly, right click and save here. To subscribe to Rum Doings click here, or you can find it in iTunes here.

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by John Walker at January 26, 2017 01:44 PM

January 24, 2017

Nick Cohen

Our World In Stupor Lies

Standpoint December/January 2016/17

 

In Cold War Manhattan, there appeared to be no greater enmity than the hatred between Victor Navasky, editor of left-wing magazine The Nation, and William F. Buckley Jr, editor of National Review.

The Nation was, if not pro-Communist, then at the very least anti-Nato. Buckley’s aim, by contrast, was to destroy the liberalism of the Republican party and build a red-blooded conservative movement in its place. (Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice.) They argued about everything. Navasky was right to condemn conservatives’ support for McCarthyism and their opposition to the civil rights movement. But history has vindicated Buckley’s attacks on the Left’s myth that Soviet agents in America were innocent victims of the state.

In 2008, after Buckley had died, Navasky confessed to getting on well with his old foe. They both edited ideological magazines that had an influence far beyond their small circulations. They both despised the profitable mainstream media, which stuck to the daily news schedule. They wanted to find new ideas and stories the big news organisations chose to ignore or simply did not see. They challenged rather than informed their readers. Above all, “whenever we found ourselves within drinking distance”, they shared a bottle and despaired of their backers, who in their innocence expected small intellectual magazines to make a profit.

Buckley’s commitment to free enterprise would have led to his magazine closing. But, Navasky explained, he would excuse his appeals for charitable donations by saying, “You don’t expect the church to make a profit, do you?”

Their world is dead. I don’t know if there are intellectuals left in Manhattan. Certainly, here in London, when cliché-ridden hacks throw around the insult “Hampstead intellectual” they show only that they do not realise that no intellectual has been able to afford to buy a home in Hampstead since Michael Foot’s day. Where there were once second-hand bookshops for inquiring minds, there are now boutiques for second wives.

Gone too is the assumption that there exists a profitable mainstream media for mavericks to rail against. I spent the weekend in the company of an editor from the New York Times. Trump’s victory had driven him to despair, but he still found the spirit to reject my accusation that the US press had failed to do its job. It had reported on Hillary Clinton’s emails. It had exposed Donald Trump’s scams and tax dodging. But its exposés had no effect. New technologies had locked Americans in belief systems as rigid as anything the Cold War imposed. Where once the totalitarian state had controlled the news, now Facebook algorithms ensured subscribers only received information that confirmed their prejudices.

The objection that people always bought newspapers which suited their politics does not wash. Even though a left-wing New Yorker would have read The Nation and his or her counterpart on the Right would have turned to Buckley, they did not and could not immerse themselves in their ideological comfort zone. Broadcast news had to be impartial. It forced them to confront awkward facts and arguments they would rather not hear. In the US, famously, Ronald Reagan abolished the fairness doctrine for broadcasters and allowed the creation of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and Donald Trump. But it is vital to understand that regulated British broadcasting is not in much better shape.

Certainly, you can find an impartial or reasonably impartial view of the world from the BBC and other public-sector broadcasters, but many do not even see it. The biggest change the web has brought is the ability for users to immerse themselves in cyberspace for most of their waking lives. Readers of The Nation did not get up every morning and stay in touch with the magazine until they went to bed. Subscribers to National Review did not take all their news from one source. Now they have propaganda and outright lies delivered to them in their feed whenever they click on to it, along with news of their friends, gossip, showbiz and everything else they could want. What chance does the New York Times or BBC have against that? Who wants boring fact-checkers and reporters trained to consider opposing points of view, when confirmation biases are much more satisfying?

The unexamined life is not worth living, as Socrates said. But unexamined “news” is what hundreds of millions want, and what many millions more will receive, whether they want it or not.

As for Navasky’s picture of the mainstream media as well-fed monsters, it no more survived the Cold War than the Soviet Union did. Every major news organisation has cut back on reporters. Few apart from specialist magazines have a workable business plan for protecting what is left of their staff.

I accept that as you grow older you run the risk of sinking into pessimism. But I cannot see how print and broadcast journalism for inquiring people can survive anywhere except in specialist niches. In their place are Vladimir Putin propagandists using misinformation as a weapon of foreign policy. Alongside them, the web honours every variety of crank, nutjob and freak. To call them out is to commit the sin of our age and be an “elitist”. Once I would have said that the insult reeks of condescension because it assumes the masses can only handle lies. Now I suspect lies is what they want. Maybe I am wrong. Even if I am, it remains true, that the economic model for providing journalism which strives to be more than propaganda is everywhere failing.

I have gone back to Auden in 2016. He may have been all over the place politically but I can think of no better writer to have by my side in a time of chaos. He ended his “September 1, 1939”, written in the interval between the Hitler-Stalin pact and the outbreak of World War II, with:

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages

Real, fact-checked news that has not been tailored to suit your preferences is in danger of becoming one of Auden’s “points of light”. You will still be able to see it if you peer hard into the darkness. But you will only find it if you want to look for it, and the lesson of our times is that the majority of our fellow citizens do not.


by Nick Cohen at January 24, 2017 01:57 PM

Why satirists can’t touch Trump


Standpoint November 2016

“Are you not entertained?” boomed Alec Baldwin as he played Donald Trump on the US comedy show Saturday Night Live. We ought to have been. Baldwin’s Trump was a puffy-eyed pervert. He loomed over the actress playing Hillary Clinton like a rapist stalking a victim. He was entitled, bigoted and stupid. Baldwin’s satire appeared so good that the real Donald Trump tweeted: “Time to retire the boring and unfunny show. Alec Baldwin portrayal stinks. Media rigging election!”

It seemed the ultimate compliment at a time when comedians appear to have replaced poets to become Shelley’s unacknowledged legislators of the world. No novelist, let alone a mere poet, can fill stadiums as he or she delivers a take on current affairs. After a scandal breaks no one thinks, “I must hear what Zadie Smith has to say.” Not the way they think, “I can’t wait to see how John Oliver or Have I Got News for You exposes these bastards.”

The Trump candidacy ought to have been political comedy’s apotheosis. Yet rather than affirm the power of satire, Trump has demonstrated its limits.

It turns out that political comedy works in democracies that undoubtedly can be sinister, corrupt, stupid, incompetent and unequal, but are not, when you get down to it, so bad after all.

If we are talking about the unacknowledged, the most unacknowledged limit on satire is the power of its targets to retaliate. Russia and Saudi Arabia do not have the equivalent of John Oliver. Any television executive who tried to put one on air would be fired, and the Russian or Saudi Oliver would be lucky to stay out of jail. You can roar along with the audiences at The Book of Mormon. But the only reason it is on stage is because its authors know that, however bad members of the Church of the Latter Day Saints are, they are not so terrible they would try to kill them.

You cannot, after Salman Rushdie and Charlie Hebdo, roar along with satires of Islam anywhere, because in that instance, producers and writers fear that they would be putting their lives on the line.

It tells you all you need to know about Trump, that he tried to intimidate his critics by threatening to sue them. But the First Amendment to the US Constitution means public figures have no chance of winning a libel case. It is a frightening thought that a candidate in Britain backed by a plutocratic demagogue could limit criticism from artists, comedians and journalists by deploying libel lawyers. In America, however, legal threats are hollow gestures.

The real trouble Trump should force liberal satirists to face is that when extremism flourishes their jokes die. They live by pushing caricatures to extremes. All conservative leaders since Thatcher and Reagan have been likened to dictators. Tony Blair was a war criminal. The Daily Mail is Der Stürmer. And so on. But if Western leaders were really dictators, war criminals and monsters, they would have had the comedians shot. Having exaggerated so much in the past, when an actual monster confronts them, they have no words left.

There was a sequence on Saturday Night Live which showed satire’s futility to perfection. After a question from an African-American actor in the audience Baldwin’s Trump started to rant about what a criminal “Crooked Hillary” was, and how he was going to put her in jail once he was President. “She’s committed so many crimes,” he sneered, “she’s basically a black.”

The audience gasped. But the joke had no impact. For how was it a satirical exaggeration for comic effect? The Republican candidate for President had rubbed the noses of America’s blacks into the dirt for years by spreading the lie that the first black President was not a real American. Nothing a satirist can say about Trump’s lechery can match his private boasts about sexually assaulting women, or his public humiliation of women for their looks and their periods. If you are Mexican, what gag can amuse you about Trump’s assertions that you are a probable murderer? If you are a Muslim, what laughs can you find in his opinion that all Muslims are potential terrorists and must be banned from the United States? You can’t make good jokes about Trump because his misogyny and racism aren’t funny. You cannot laugh at men like that. You give them too much credit when you do, and make them seem less frightening than they are.

The Trump candidacy marks the end of a cool school of satire exemplified not just by Oliver but by Samantha Bee, Trevor Noah and Jon Stewart, and a host of less successful British imitators. It was the leftish equivalent of Fox News in that it preached only to the converted. If you were a conservative, you weren’t in on the joke, you were the butt of the joke. Its exclusiveness meant that the millions of white working-class Americans who admire Trump would not give liberals a hearing at the precise moment when Oliver, Bee and the rest had something worth saying. Saturday Night Live unconsciously admitted the limits of satire in Kate McKinnon’s portrayal of Hillary Clinton. It made a couple of good cracks about her awkwardness and sheer inadequacy as a politician. But the real joke was the show’s gleeful Hillary displaying how immensely grateful she was to the Republican party for putting up Donald Trump, the one candidate she could beat.
What is it you admire about Trump, she was asked at one point.

“I do like how generous he is,” the spoof Clinton said. “Just last Friday he handed me this election.”

The laughter that followed was more a sigh of relief than a guffaw, snigger or howl. Of course, Trump would lose. Of course, everything would be all right in the end.

One day it won’t be. One day in America, Britain or France a cleaned-up Trump will run. He or she will be less openly racist — a Marine rather than a Jean-Marie Le Pen. If he is a sexual predator, it will be less obvious. Women won’t be able to tell exactly what he is with one glance at his piggy eyes.

When they run, laughter won’t stop them or even hurt them. You won’t be able to joke about them. All you will be able to do is put aside the jokes and the parodies, wipe that stupid grin from your face, and fight them.


by Nick Cohen at January 24, 2017 01:54 PM

Democracies cower before dictatorships

The Observer 22 January, 2017

Hard questions for democracies have piled up with a speed we have yet to take in. After the cold war, westerners asked how to stand up to autocrats. Should we intervene to stop genocide in Bosnia? Or demand sanctions and boycotts to protect the rights of Tibetans? The rise of communist China, Putin’s Russia and Erdoğan’s Turkey changed the terms of debate. The question was no longer should we intervene, but could we intervene against powers more than able to resist pressure?

Now that the Trump administration has slouched towards Washington to be born and strongmen have muscled their way into the chancelleries of eastern Europe, the question is more basic: how are supposed democracies different from actual dictatorships?

Greece, the birthplace of democracy, is rarely included in the list of countries that have sunk into corrupt and mendacious authoritarianism. The fact that Syriza is held to be a leftwing rather than a rightwing populist regime is thought to be a distinction of supreme importance by the kind of people who think Paul Mason is an intellectual. Yet the arrival in power of “the coalition of the radical left” did not stop the corruption scandals in Greek politics. Nor did it usher in a new age of freedom.

Instead, Syriza has shown that concepts of “left” and “right” cannot explain the brute realities of 21st-century power. They are almost an irrelevance now. If Donald Trump is right wing, for instance, why do free-market conservatives and national security Republicans fear him so? If Syriza is left wing, why is it in alliance with the ultra-nationalists and religious obscurantists of the Independent Greeks party?

As always, you must never let your eye be distracted from the constraints that bind the powerful and the violence with which they fight against them. This week, the Greek supreme court, the Areopagus, may, at its government’s behest, overturn a constraint that has bound European governments since the fall of the 20th-century tyrannies. The Greek novelist Apostolos Doxiadis tells me he has dropped his writing to campaign about a case that goes to the heart of what Europe thinks it is and what it is in danger of becoming.

Greece’s degeneration into a baklava republic would be bad enough on its own

Here is why. On 16 July 2016, the night of the doomed coup against Recep Erdoğan, three Turkish search-and-rescue crews were ordered by their commanding officer to pick up casualties from an “emergency situation in the centre of Istanbul”. Their helicopters met intense gunfire. They saved who they could and retreated back to base.

By their account, they had no foreknowledge of the coup. They could not raise their commanders on their return. But when they turned on the television and saw soldiers being lynched, eight of the airmen decided to flee to Greece. Their reason for thinking they would find sanctuary may soon leave a bitter taste: “because it is Europe”.

For them and millions of others, Europe was as much an idea as a continent. After the defeat of fascism and communism, and in Greece’s case the overthrow of the colonels’ junta in 1974, “Europe” stood for the rule of law and human rights. By definition, it opposed those familiar instruments from the age of the dictators: arbitrary arrest, show trials, torture and the death penalty.

Erdoğan has used the excuse of the coup to purge Turkish society of every potential centre of opposition. To check off the above list, Erdoğan’s forces have arrested Kurdish politicians for being Kurds. They have used the flimsiest of pretexts to put journalists on trial for “spreading terrorist propaganda”. To the surprise of no one, defence lawyers have made credible accusations of torture. Meanwhile, Turkey’s nationalist right is campaigning to restore the death penalty.

The eight officers were arrested within hours of landing. Far from respecting due process and the rule of law, Erdoğan was able to boast that Syriza’s leader and the luckless Greeks’ prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, had “assured me the officers will be extradited”. Tsipras did not contradict the implicit accusation that he was interfering with the Greek courts.

The only evidence offered by the Turkish state against the officers is the unanswered phone calls they made to their commander, who has since been arrested as a participant in the putsch. The officers say they were merely seeking further instructions from their superiors amid the confusion.

In a well-run country, the courts would ignore the prime minister. It’s not that simple in Greece. Doxiadis, who has the outrage of a Greek Zola, says: “In a true democracy, Mr Tsipras’s kowtowing to Mr Erdoğan would be merely contemptible, a blatant attempt to gain personal favour at the expense of human rights. But in today’s Greece they are cause for great alarm.” The president of the Greek supreme court is a government appointee. We will soon find out how far the independence of the Greek judiciary extends.

Greece’s degeneration into a baklava republic would be bad enough on its own. The story of that degeneration is also worth retelling as a warning to the political equivalent of sex tourists to stop getting their rocks off on fantasies about “socialist” governments far from home.

But the case of the airmen is wider than that. The whole of Europe has a Grecian feel now. The EU cut a deal with Erdoğan to keep out the refugees, whose presence on Europe’s streets has provoked a continent-wide backlash. Talk to him too harshly and he could tear it up. If Trump allies with Putin, the rest of Nato may not think they can stand up to Russia alone. As for isolated Britain, its leaders will find every excuse to sell arms to every dictatorship from Riyadh to Beijing. Any trade will soon be better than no trade.

The only argument against appeasement is the realistic argument that it will not work. Erdoğan has gone mad. He roams around his 1,000-room palace ranting against his opponents. Putin, likewise, has made it clear that the west is his enemy. Nothing we can do will make him change his mind.

As fate would have it, the Greek supreme court was named after the Areopagus of classical Athens, which heard the trials of antiquity. Aeschylus in the Oresteia sent Orestes there to seek protection from the Furies. Athena tells him:

O man unknown, make thou thy plea in turn.
Speak forth thy land, thy lineage, and thy woes;
Then, if thou canst, avert this bitter blame.

Whether eight Turkish airmen can find justice and avert the bitter blame is not just a question for them, but for a continent tormented by Furies of its own.


by Nick Cohen at January 24, 2017 01:50 PM

The theory of “post-truth politics” is a counsel of despair


Observer 14 January 2017

Post-truth politics isn’t a coherent description of the world but a cry of despair. Propositions have not stopped being right or wrong just because of the invention of Facebook. Whatever the authoritarian cults who rage across Twitter say to the contrary, the Earth still goes round the sun and two plus two still equals four.

“Everything is relative. Stories are being made up all the time. There is no such thing as the truth,” cried Anthony Grayling. But unless the professor has abandoned every philosophical principle he has held, what Grayling and millions like him mean is something like this. Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, and other liars the like of which they cannot remember, have made fantastical promises to their electorates. They said they could build a wall and make Mexico pay for it or make Britain richer by crashing her out of the EU.

But instead of laughing at their transparent falsehoods or being insulted at being taken for fools, blocs of voters have handed them victory. Evidence could not shake them. Common sense could not reach them. Surely, their gullibility shows we have arrived in a new dystopia. You can see why they got that way. Trump is clear that the checks and balances that restrained power in the old world will not apply to him. His refusal to release his tax returns shows it. The Russian dissident Garry Kasparov put the urgent case for transparency best when he said Trump has criticised Republicans, Democrats, the pope, the CIA, FBI, Nato, Meryl Streep… everyone and anyone “except Vladimir Putin”.

What gives here? And more to the point, who’s on the take? I see an ideological affinity between Russian autocracy, the western far left and the western populist right: they band together against the common enemy of liberal democracy. But it has always been reasonable to ask whether the traditional inducements of sex and money have tightened Putin’s grip on Trump.

You could lay this canard to rest by publishing your tax returns, American journalists told their president-elect. You must know the American public wants to see them.

The public doesn’t care, Trump replied. I went into an election refusing to release my tax returns and “I won.” So now I can do what I want.

His spokeswoman, Kellyanne Conway, who could work for a Russian propaganda channel when she’s thrown out of politics, uses the same logic when asked whether it is “presidential” for her master to lie so often and so blatantly. “He’s the president-elect, so that’s presidential behaviour.”

The British are experiencing their own version of Trumpish triumphalism. In our case, too, the answer to every hard question is a brute proclamation of power. Are you seriously going to take us out of the single market? Leave won. And the customs union? Leave won. What about EU citizens here? Leave won. And British citizens there? Leave won.

Fighting back should be easy – if you cannot expose charlatans such as Trump and Johnson, you should step aside a make way for people who can. But a terrible uncertainty grips opposition politics across the English-speaking world. Trump’s victory strikes me as a far greater cause for self-doubt than Brexit. Because we never had to endure invasion by Hitler or Stalin, or government by Greek colonels or Spanish falangists, the British did not have the same emotional attachment to an EU that freed the rest of Europe from a terrible past.

Even if, as I do, you regard the decision to leave as a monumental blunder, it is not, given Britain’s lucky history, inexplicable. Trump’s victory, by contrast, overturns truths that western liberals felt to be self-evident. You cannot abuse women and ethnic minorities. You cannot lie in your every second utterance. If you do, the media will expose and destroy you.

I can’t find a better way of illustrating the demoralising change in the weather than by referring you to Alan Ryan’s history of western political thought, On Politics. I don’t mean to criticise Ryan. He has produced a vast and brilliant book that stands comparison with Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy. But unlike Russell, who was gloriously waspish and prejudiced, Ryan is a careful writer and his rare opinionated judgments are all the more authoritative for that.
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In 2013 he, like nearly every serious person, could say with absolute certainty that, despite its legion of faults, the 21st century was better than the 20th. For instance, Ryan explained, Governor George Wallace’s infamous battle cry of the 1950s – “I will never be out-niggered”, after he had been beaten by a politician who was even more of a racist than he was – “would today instantly terminate his career”.

Yet in 2016, Trump echoed Wallace and far from seeing his career terminated became president of the United States, an office that Wallace never came near, incidentally. After that, I can understand why the disoriented talk about a post-truth world, but it remains a sign of their trauma rather than a description of our times.

It is as dangerous to overestimate the importance of technological change as to underestimate it. There was no web in 1968, and US broadcasters had to be accurate and impartial. The old world of 20th-century technology did not, however, stop George Wallace winning millions of white, working-class votes when he ran for president as an open white supremacist. Wallace was beaten by Richard Nixon, a closet racist and crook.

When his crimes caught up with him, Nixon declared that he could not be prosecuted because “when the president does it, that means it is not illegal”, a line that Conway might have written for him.

Post-truth world or not, a Republican abolition of Obamacare will still leave white, working-class Americans who voted for Trump to rot without decent treatment, a hard Brexit will still hurt the British working class more than their rightwing leaders, the Earth will still go round the sun, and two plus two will still equal four.

To pretend that we are living in a culture without historical precedent is to make modernity an excuse for the abnegation of political responsibility. The question for the Anglo-Saxon opposition is not how to cope with a world where truth has suddenly become as hard to find as Trump’s tax returns. It is the same question that has faced every opposition in the history of democracy: how can we make the powerful pay for the lies they have fed to the masses?


by Nick Cohen at January 24, 2017 01:47 PM

The Brexiteers turn on the plebs

 

Spectator 15 January 2017


The trouble with plebiscites is that they leave the plebs stranded. A complicated issue is reduced to one question: should we leave the EU, yes or no. Nowhere on the ballot does it ask whether we should leave the single market or currency union, crash into the WTO without trade agreements with the rest of the world, or tear up employment protections. There is just the deceptively simple question. It provides no guidance to which of the thousands of possible futures we could chose when it is answered.

The Leavers might have interpreted the referendum result as meaning Britain should embrace the Norway model; and pay the price for staying in the single market by accepting free movement. They might have interpreted the vote as meaning we should stay in the Customs Union, as we do not have the trade negotiators to cut new deals with half the planet. The world does not owe Britain a living, after all, and will want as large a slice of our industry as it can take. As Donald Trump’s advisor Wilbur Ross said, the UK’s withdrawal from the EU was a ‘God-given opportunity’ for London’s financial rivals.

Instead, the government has decided that vote leave meant vote hard Brexit. Philip Hammond is now saying Britain might become an Atlantic Singapore. He told Welt am Sonntag that if Britain was left closed off from European markets, it would consider abandoning the European-style social model, with ‘European-style taxation systems, European-style regulation systems’ and ‘become something different’.

‘We could be forced to change our economic model, and we will have to change our model to regain competitiveness. And you can be sure we will do whatever we have to do.’

We were not told Brexit would mean tearing up worker, environmental and consumer protections. On the contrary, the vote was meant to be a chance for the ‘left behind’ to ‘take back control’ of their lives. Hammond is now saying, or at least threatening, that control will pass to employers who can break free of ‘European-style’ restrictions on how they treat their workforce and corporations, who can break free of safety and environmental standards, and see their tax bills slashed. In the name of taking back control, ordinary people will lose what protections they have, and see the corporate tax take for public services fall.

EU labour protections are significant. They guarantee paid holidays, and childcare. They forbid discrimination against employees on grounds of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. When some of us tried to warn that Brexit would give the Tories the right to tear them up, we were denounced as liars misleading the public in the service of ‘project fear’. Andrea Leadsom and Gisela Stuart huffed indignantly in the Times in June that it was a ‘scare’ to suggest ‘there will be a bonfire of employment regulations after Brexit’ and the fat cats of industry will be ‘allowed to run free’.

Now it appears we may become a low regulation, low tax country where we bend the knee to every oligarch and asset stripper who wants to move here. The plebs may or may not get control of immigration from the plebiscite. But they will find control of their rights and lives slipping ever-further from them.

So here is the first problem with plebiscites. You only get the one vote, and there are no follow up questions. You might object that Leave won, and is entitled, like any other victor in British parliamentary politics, to govern and be judged by the electorate at the next election. But, and here is the second trouble with plebiscites, who is there to hold to account? The Tories in Vote Leave and Ukip supporters in Leave.EU made the promises about Brexit. When they won, they dissolved. Hammond and May, who voted to Remain, are leading the government. They are under no obligation to keep promises about Brexit made by others. Indeed, one assumes that, if they were sincere in June, they would keep us in the EU if it were up to them. Rather than being recognisable British politicians, they are almost civil servants carrying out a policy they regard as mistaken.

So here is the second problem with plebiscites: we have a government which is taking a dangerous position on trade that may threaten our jobs and living standards, and is threatening to take an ultra-conservative position on workers rights and corporate power, in the name of ‘the people,’ whose permission they did not seek, and because of a referendum, whose outcome they deplore.


by Nick Cohen at January 24, 2017 01:41 PM

Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Murdered Script

The Spectator 3 January 2017

In the first days of January ‘17, the Arctic air frosted over London forcing even the most careless citizen of that metropolis to accept the mastery of those great elemental forces which shriek at mankind through the bars of his civilisation. Holmes would not move from his fire, and was as moody as only he could be when he had no case to interest him.

‘Why,’ said I, glancing up at my companion, ‘that was surely the bell. Who could come tonight? Some friend of yours, perhaps?’

‘Except yourself I have none,’ he answered.

‘A client, then?’

‘If so, it is a serious case. Nothing less would bring a man out on such a day and at such an hour. But I take it that it is more likely to be some crony of the landlady’s.’

Sherlock Holmes was wrong in his conjecture, however, for there came a step in the passage and a tapping at the door.

The man who entered was the wrong side of middle age, some five and sixty at the outside, well groomed, and trimly clad in a 1000-guinea suit.

‘You have come up from Fitzrovia,’ said Holmes

‘I have,’ our guest replied plainly astonished.

‘The distinctive clay and sand mixture on your shoes can only be from the pavement repairs outside the Langham Place branch of Pizza Express,’ explained Holmes with a yawn.

‘And I see you work in broadcasting.’

‘I am Tony Hall, Director-General of the BBC,’ the visitor exclaimed.’ Sir, how could you know?’

‘The lines from forced smiles around your mouth and the dark bags around your eyes tell me you are from a profession where one must make an outward show of passionate enthusiasm while concealing a wild despair. Your decision to wear a suit and shirt but no necktie merely confirmed the point for me.’

Our visitor could take no more. ‘I had hoped you could help me Mr Holmes. I am told you are fond of queer mysteries, and there is none queerer than this.’

‘By all means. The cold has sent the criminals of London to sleep, and I yearn for a new case.’

‘It’s about Sherlock, a drama series on which I have spent a not inconsiderable sum of money. Money, which I should tell you Mr Holmes, my organisation can ill afford to lose.’

‘Pray proceed,’ said Holmes, bringing his fingers together and staring at our guest with a concentration no other man in England could match.

‘It begins with Professor Moriarty taking over every computer and TV screen.’

‘Why would he do that?’

‘No one knows’

‘Will it be explained later?’

‘No one knows’.

‘Anyway, a boy burns to death in a car.’

‘Is this child’s unfortunate demise at the heart of your case?’

‘Not really. It’s covered in 90 seconds.’

‘As I understand it, Mr Hall, you assigned 90 minutes to your entertainment. How did your scriptwriters fill the remaining 88 minutes and 30 seconds?’

Our visitor turned pale. He clearly did not wish to speak, but with the effort of a condemned man climbing the steps he stammered, ‘By making you lovable.’

‘Lovable?’

‘Yes to show you are game for a laff.’

‘And how do these repellent qualities manifest themselves?’

‘You lunge for a plate of biscuits and shout, “Are those ginger nuts? I love ginger nuts”.’

‘Surely this must make me seem remarkably stupid?’

‘Everyone must in BBC drama today. Easily bored 13-year olds are our target audience. Even after the watershed. Especially after the watershed.’

‘But I must have a case to solve.’

‘This is why I am here Mr Holmes. The BBC wishes only that you could solve it for we are at a loss to understand what we have broadcast, or indeed why we have broadcast.

‘You must know that Dr Watson’s wife, is now an international assassin, whose career is modelled on the adventures of one Mr Jason Bourne, of New York City.’

‘My dear Holmes,’ I cried, ‘this is too much’.

‘I assume Watson,’ said Holmes, trying to calm me, ‘the BBC intends that in the interest of dramatic plausibility you met Mrs Watson on the field of battle. In Afghanistan, perhaps.’

‘Not a bit of it,’ the broadcaster replied. ‘Dr Watson marries her thinking she was just the kind of woman he would have met in Fortnum & Mason, or Waitrose if he were in one of the poorer parts of town. Only later does it transpire that his wife has worked for the CIA, MI6 and agencies of other powers as a contract killer – as so many young women do these days.’

‘A fellow assassin is searching busts of Lady Margaret Thatcher, for a USB stick containing all the details of his life, he had hid in a Lady Margaret Thatcher bust manufacturing factory in Tbilisi, Georgia. (That’s Georgia Caucasus, not Georgia USA.)

‘He decides that he must kill Mrs Watson for betraying him when they were international men (and women) of mystery six years previously, even though Mrs Watson is about to have a baby and gallantry would demand restraint.

‘Mr Watson is, meanwhile, betraying Mrs Watson by thinking about having an affair. It turns out that spy who betrayed the assassin was not Mrs Watson but a secretary working for Her Majesty’s Government. The secretary tries to kill Mr Holmes in an aquarium, near Westminster, I believe, but Mrs Watson throws herself in front of the bullet and dies in his place.’

My capacity to speak deserted me. But Holmes retained his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind.

‘Why would international assassins carry USB sticks containing all their secrets? Surely it would make the task of any arresting constable seeking to ascertain their motives ridiculously easy to accomplish.’

‘I don’t know,’ said the Director-General

‘Why would my good friend Dr Watson consider an improper relationship with another lady? Was he flabbergasted to discover that his wife was, contrary to all reasonable expectations, a hired killer of the utmost ruthlessness?

‘I don’t know,’ said the Director-General.

And said Holmes his voice raising, ‘why would the mother of a new-born child kill herself to protect me? The fair sex is not my department, but surely her first instinct would be to protect her baby?’

‘I don’t know,’ said the Director-General. ‘I really don’t know anything.’

‘Come man. It is easy. I wonder why you even considered such trivialities worthy of my attention. Our creator Mr Arthur Conan Doyle insisted in A Case of Identity that “the little things are infinitely the most important”. He would never allow Dr Watson to present a case to the public filled with slapdash tricks.

‘But Conan Doyle’s standards are hard to meet. It is easier to raid zany crime capers and action movies than create a true mystery. Easier to give Dr Watson a love interest then kill her off so he can have a fresh love interest in the next episode than think of a plot that can hold the audience’s attention.

‘Better to substitute sentimentality for sensitivity, clichés for craftsmanship, and contrivance for creativity. The alternative would require writers of application and talent your organisation can no longer acquire.’

The director-general ran. He looked back at us from the door, and I had a last impression of that haunted face, the startled eyes, and the drawn mouth.

Then he was gone.


by Nick Cohen at January 24, 2017 01:23 PM

Russian treachery is extreme and it is everywhere


The Observer, 7 January 2016

Nationalism always breaks its promises because nationalists hate enemies in their countries more than they hate the enemies of their countries. Millions of American conservatives proved it when they voted for Donald Trump, even though he was an open admirer of a hostile foreign power.

Local hatreds, not national security, moved them. They hated Obama more than they feared Putin. They hated political correctness. They hated – not without reason – the attacks on freedom of speech. They hated rich liberals and defence lawyers. They hated Black Lives Matter and immigrants speaking Spanish in the shop queue. They hated the “experts” who told them that fossil fuel caused global warming and gun ownership caused crime. For all their patriotism, when it came to the crunch, they cared as little for national security as the “reds” their ancestors condemned in the 20th century.

You should never lose your capacity for shock. Even connoisseurs of the grotesque have had to take a deep breath and count to 10 after watching the Republican president-elect of the United States preferring the word of Julian Assange to the word of his own intelligence agencies. That Assange is cowering from rape charges in the basement of the Ecuadorian embassy, and maintaining that the same United States would persecute him if he emerged to face his accusers like an honourable man, only made the task of regaining your composure harder.

If that is not enough for you, consider that the CIA once inspired fear around the world. Now it is so feeble it cannot stop a Russian plot in plain sight to manipulate a US election. The FBI once harassed real and imagined communists it claimed were in the pocket of the Kremlin. In 2016, its director intervened on behalf of the Kremlin’s chosen candidate in the US presidential election. Russian enmity is hardly a secret. Watch Putin’s propaganda station, RT, which Ofcom believes to the amazement of all serious journalists to comply with Britain’s rules on broadcasting accuracy and impartiality, and you see that the regime hates the west and uses anti-western conspiracies to explain away its thefts and crimes.

Shocking though the fellow travelling of the useful idiots of the right is (and what a pleasure it will be for western leftists of a certain age to throw back the insults conservatives once threw at them), it is not wholly incomprehensible. A large cohort of Cold War conservatives did not oppose the godless communist dictatorships of the Soviet Union and its satellites because they were dictatorships but because they were godless. Russia may be a dictatorship again, but the atheist state has gone and it is a godly dictatorship now that Putin has embraced the Orthodox Christianity of the tsars. To further endear himself to conservatives, he persecutes homosexuals and denounces the liberal values that threatened his rule in the street protests of 2012 so vehemently his ideologue Alexander Durgin could say the world needs “a Nuremburg Trial for liberalism”.
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Naturally, such support for the conservative side in the culture wars has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated.

Above all else, the west’s Christian right or as they now call themselves the “civilisational right” welcome Putin as an unapologetic foe of Islam. From 9/11, western politicians from George W Bush and Tony Blair onwards bent over backwards to say that the west is not in a war against Islam. Putin, Trump and their supporters feel no such constraints. Trump’s choice for national security adviser, General Michael Flynn, says “fear of Muslims is rational” and that Islam is “like cancer”.

He sees Russia as the west’s partner against radical Islam just as it was its partner against Hitler. Meanwhile, Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, talks about the “long history of the Judeo-Christian west’s struggle against Islam” and also says we have to look to Putin and a Russia that, from Sarajevo to Aleppo, has endorsed the slaughter of Sunni Muslims. Following the money is not always the best advice. However much Trump, Le Pen and their henchmen may have taken from Russia, the authoritarian right in the west and the authoritarian right in the Kremlin would have been natural allies, even if no roubles had changed hands.

In these circumstances, the support of the Labour leadership, Stop the War and the American Green party for Russian imperialism is incredible. Perhaps we should stop condemning the hypocrisy and malice of the far left and conclude it is just astonishingly stupid. The simplest explanations are often the best, after all.

Less easy to explain away is the unprecedented dilemma now facing Britain. Whatever else you can say against Theresa May’s government, neither she nor her senior colleagues or civil servants want to follow Trump, Le Pen and Farage. When the Economist journalist Edward Lucas, who first warned of a new Cold War a decade ago, speaks in Whitehall these days the lecture rooms are packed. Meanwhile, MI6 is falling over itself in an effort to recruit Russian specialists and the Foreign Office, which once saw Russia as a lucrative market for British business, has finally woken up to the danger.

Official Britain may not have yet produced a co-ordinated response. The essential question of how to tackle the City banks and law firms that launder money for the Russian kleptocracy has yet to be faced. But at least it understands Russia’s state-sponsored propaganda, invasions of Ukrainian territory and hack attacks are part of a coherent Kremlin campaign to demoralise and break up the west.

In the past, Britain would have looked to the US for support and leadership. Now, and with the worst timing imaginable, at the very moment when Brexit is tearing up our relationship with Europe, Britain has to wonder if America is still a reliable partner. Downing Street and the Foreign Office must deal with a US president who endorses every violation of US and international law the British government has denounced. Trump has proposed recognising the annexation of Crimea that Britain opposed. Rather than fear Russian cyberwarfare as Britain does, he so revels in it he encouraged Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Jonathan Powell, Blair’s chief of staff, told me he’s is not remotely surprised that a panicking Theresa May is sending her most senior advisers to meet Trump’s team. Britain’s European alliance is in crisis and so is our American alliance. All the relationships we have relied on for decades may dissolve simultaneously. For the first time since 1941, a Britain isolated from Europe may have to regard the United States as a potentially hostile foreign power.


by Nick Cohen at January 24, 2017 01:16 PM

January 09, 2017

The Thoughts of a Mind

Rum Doings Episode 232: The Symbol Of Disposable Mortality

In our 232th ever Rum Doings, our topic is, have you ever eaten a ghost?

Discussions of our Christmas break, Lappish holidays, and festive feasts breaks way into an accidental conversion to Catholicism. We laugh at the colossally stupid Canary, forecast 2017, and then talk about the Mandela Effect, and specifically this article about it. And then mailing lists, and a surprise celebration of George Michael.

To get this episode directly, right click and save here. To subscribe to Rum Doings click here, or you can find it in iTunes here.

Or you can listen to it right here:

by John Walker at January 09, 2017 11:01 AM

December 09, 2016

The Thoughts of a Mind

Rum Doings Episode 231: 100% Desiccated Breakfast

In our 231th ever Rum Doings, our topic is, is the cynical introduction of affordable 4K HDR televisions the last straw?

In another pleasingly mixed episode we talk all over the place, from remembering Fight Club to from where the next child abuse scandal shall emerge, adoption and fostering to the luck and timing of creative success. We try to fathom YouTube like old, old men, and then laugh at how silly Googles are.

To get this episode directly, right click and save here. To subscribe to Rum Doings click here, or you can find it in iTunes here.

Or you can listen to it right here:

by John Walker at December 09, 2016 02:53 PM

December 02, 2016

The Thoughts of a Mind

Rum Doings Episode 230: That Is Racist

In our 230th ever Rum Doings, our topic is, actually, ALL Fridays matter.

We recorded this last week, but then John’s life went crazy and he finally got around to posting it today. But thankfully we chatted aimiably about non-topical things for a change! So here is a lovely episode that should distract you from the 2016s of 2016.

To get this episode directly, right click and save here. To subscribe to Rum Doings click here, or you can find it in iTunes here.

Or you can listen to it right here:

by John Walker at December 02, 2016 07:48 AM

November 09, 2016

The Thoughts of a Mind

Rum Doings Episode 229: Emergency Election-o-Horror Episode

In our 229th ever Rum Doings, our topic is, are plastic pegs an abomination or the saviours of the washing line?

This is a slightly shorter emergency episode, responding to the US election result as soon as we were both alive again this morning. It’s glum, obviously, but you do get to hear Nick say words that you’ll have never heard before (his family and friends included).

We talk about what isn’t going to happen, how there won’t be a wall, what limits Trump will operate under. And then we talk terrifying worst-case scenarios. But the good news is, it all ends with lovely cute Toby chatting his madness at us.

To get this episode directly, right click and save here. To subscribe to Rum Doings click here, or you can find it in iTunes here.

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by John Walker at November 09, 2016 10:07 AM

November 04, 2016

The Thoughts of a Mind

Rum Doings Episode 228: Vote Trump We Were JOKING

In our 228th ever Rum Doings, our topic is, since it is clear we cannot be trusted with cotton buds and ears isn’t it about time they were banned?

We talk about how all judges are pure evil hellbent against the will of the people, the Brexit effect (Brexfect), and move on to the American election. Plus we accuse just about everyone of terrible crimes, and then explain why everyone should vote Trump.

To get this episode directly, right click and save here. To subscribe to Rum Doings click here, or you can find it in iTunes here.

Or you can listen to it right here:

by John Walker at November 04, 2016 12:35 PM